The eponymous hero of Hannah Tinti's richly atmospheric second novel, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, has led a sketchy life. But after years on the lam, he finally settles in Olympus, the fictional Massachusetts hometown of his late wife, Lily, whose death becomes one of the novel's riveting mysteries. Raising their daughter, Loo, Hawley remains ever vigilant, "always watching," "always waiting," desperate to protect her from the perils of his past. He guides her with the rough hand of a hardened criminal and the warm heart of a decent man.
Tinti's is a work of impressive narrative engineering, crisscrossing America as it spans decades. The novel tells Hawley's story through the 12 bullet wounds on his body, each a relic of a narrow escape, and of survival and resilience. But as Hawley's scars reveal his secrets, Loo obsessively ponders the circumstances of her mother's death. In the bath one night, "she pictured her mother at the bottom of the lake, the flesh lifting off her bones." Tinti threads the points of view of father and child with deftness, until the past that "like a shadow" is "always trying to catch up" asserts itself irrepressibly in the present.
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is an adventure epic with the deeper resonance of myth. Above all, it's an unconventional, affecting exploration of a husband's love for his wife and a father's devotion to his daughter, whose safety he will secure one way or another, even at the expense of his own. In this extraordinary novel, Tinti exhibits an aptitude for shining a piercing light into the corners of her characters' hearts and minds. Her ability to lay bare their passions, portraying their vulnerabilities and violent urges with equal insight, leaves the reader at once shaken and moved.